If you asked the SCSU coaching staff they might be slightly surprised with the immediate impact the first-year players have had thus far this season. However, they knew this was a solid group that would build a nice foundation for the future. Admittedly, it’s a battle to compete with the college hockey blue bloods for the top blue chip recruits even though the Huskies have had two players drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft in 2016 and 2017. But, they are not recruiting players for the NHL – they’re recruiting players that fit the system St. Cloud State University hockey adheres to. With a keen eye for uncovering players, the SCSU coaching staff gets a lot of mileage out of hard work, tireless research and the early identification of talent that is a good fit for SCSU.
The hard work put in by the SCSU coaching staff is paying dividends so far this season with a #2 national ranking, #2 Pairwise ranking, 11-2-0 record and currently in first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. And, the SCSU first-year players have been major contributors to the Huskies success. Generally, you’d expect the play of the first-year players to ratchet up the second half of the season. Not so with this exemplary group of players as four of the six forwards/defensemen have seen regular action in nearly contest this season. And in goal, David Hrenak has been inserted in 5 of the teams 12 games. With that said here’s a quick rundown of the Huskies first-year players with comments:
Tyler Anderson – Defense | 1-0-0-0 0
Anderson has been caught in the numbers game for the Huskies. Were it not for the tremendous depth of the SCSU defensive unit Anderson would no doubt be seeing regular ice time for the Huskies. The coaching staff likes his ability to move the puck and his offensive skills. With the top four on the depth chart set in stone Anderson needs to wait his turn as he has two upperclassmen ahead of him and another first-year player, Lucas Jaycox pretty much entrenched as a regular in the lineup. Anderson will get his turn in the lineup but it’s a matter of sharing time with two other capable defensemen at this point.
Easton Brodzinski – Forward | 11-4-2-6 +3
The question entering the season was whether Brodzinski could carry over his scoring ability from junior hockey to the Division I level. The SCSU coaching staff was confident he could as it would be a key factor in the Huskies offense in 2017-18. If early indications are any sign, Brodzinski is on track for a very successful rookie season for the Huskies. Already named NCHC Rookie of the Week twice, Brodzinski has 4 goals and two assists for 6 points including two power play goals and two game-winning goals. He’s on track for a 20 point plus season. Brodzinski has the size to play the physical game but also has surprisingly soft hands and has made some head-turning passes this season. He’s already found time on the SCSU power play to take advantage of his biggest asset – his NHL caliber shot which hasn’t been used nearly enough so far. Of interest is that through his first 11 games he’s outscored big brother Jonny by a point thru the same number of games his rookie season.
Kevin Fitzgerald – Forward | 12-4-5-9 +6
A late recruit who toiled for portions of three seasons in the NAHL, he’s without a doubt the biggest surprise of the first-year players. He may be the biggest surprise of the rookies in the NCHC. Currently leading the first-year players in scoring with 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points and +6, Fitzgerald is the definition of a “utility player” who has been used in every concievable situation for the Huskies this season. He’s been inserted into 6 different line combinations, has played both center and right-wing and has logged time on the special teams. A well-rounded player, he’s adept defensively and offensively and can be matched with the opponents top line. His most successful pairing so far this season has been with Mikey Eyssimont and Ryan Poehling combining for 15 points.
Will Hammer – Forward | 1-0-0-0 0
Hammer is another player caught up in the numbers game at SCSU. Another late recruit who spent several years in the NAHL, Hammer is seasoned enough to be a regular in the SCSU lineup were it not for the depth ahead of him. The coaching staff likes what Hammer can offer and much like Tyler Anderson will have to wait his turn to be inserted during the season. Hammer is a good skater for his size and plays with energy and can offer that physical element to the lineup.
David Hrenak – Goaltender | 5 – 1.99 GAA .943 SV%
Coming out of Green Bay of the USHL, Hrenak has been everything he was advertised to be. He’s splitting time with Jeff Smith but would be a starter for many teams in college hockey. He’s shown that he is the goaltender of the future for SCSU. Hrenak has played in five games for the Huskies logging a 4-1-0 record with two shutouts and outstanding numbers including a 1.99 GAA and .943 SV%. He shutout both UMD and Omaha by identical 5-0 scores and turned aside 40 shots on goal in last weekends shutout of the Mavericks. He’s also been named NCHC Goaltender of the Week once so far this season.
Lucas Jaycox – Defense | 12-1-1-2 +5
The first-year player from Warroad, MN has been another recruiting gem for the Huskies coaching staff. Another relatively late recruit for the Huskies, Jaycox was originally slated to join Northern Michigan until they underwent a coaching change. With a reputation as a defense first blueliner, he’s surprised the coaching staff with his mobility and ability to transition the puck. Jaycox has been in the lineup for every game thus far and has solidified his position as the 5th defender on the depth chart. He scored 3 goals in 122 USHL games but already has one goal in 12 games for the Huskies. Early indications are that his offense will be much more productive at the Division I level vs junior hockey. At 6’2″ and nearly 200 pounds Jaycox has also offered that physical element to the Huskies lineup at defense.
Blake Lizotte – Forward | 12-1-6-7 +6
An offensive machine in the USHL, Lizotte is still looking to bust out at the collegiate level but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been an impact player for the Huskies. A highly creative and energetic player, he has exemplary puck control skills and sometimes is too generous to a fault in his desire to distribute the puck. He currently has 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points and is +6. Lizotte has been a part of seven different line combinations this season with the most productive being when he’s been placed with Mikey Eyssimont and Jacob Benson. It’s only a matter of time that he’ll explode from an offensive standpoint – he’s that skilled.
The Huskies are getting a lot of mileage out of their first-year players. With 24 points of offense, a combined +20 rating and a first-year goaltender performing at a high level, the foundation is being set for the future for SCSU hockey.